Friday, May 4, 2012

Press Freedom Day Sees Journalists Murdered, Missing

There was grim news from the Americas on press freedom day, May 3, with three Mexican journalists found dead in the state of Veracruz, and no confirmation of the fate of a French journalist thought to be in the hands of Colombia’s FARC.

Four dismembered bodies were found Thursday in a canal in Veracruz state. The Wall Street Journal reports that two were identified as photojournalists, while a third was a former photojournalist, and the fourth was his wife.

Seven journalists have been killed in Veracruz in the past 14 months, according to theCommitte to Protect Journalists. Violence has peaked in the state over the last year as the Zetas’ control over the city has been challenged by other criminal groups, including the Matazetas (Zeta Killers), a group which describes itself as paramilitary and claims to want to wipe out the Zetas in order to protect the population, and Gente Nueva, an enforcer gang linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Two of the victims, Guillermo Luna and Gabriel Huge, had both worked for Notiverbefore fleeing the area last year after the killing of another journalist, but had recently returned, according to the WSJ. They had both then begun working for VeracruzNews, says the New York Times, which identifies the third journalist as Esteban Rodriguez, who was working for Diario AZ.

Notiver has been the target of attacks in the past, says the NYT: “Last June, MiguelÁngel López Velasco, a columnist and the newspaper’s editorial director, was shot to death along with his wife and one of his children. A month later, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, one of the newspaper’s police reporters, was found with her throat slit.”

The discovery of the bodies comes days after the dead body of Regina Martínez, who wrote for Proceso, was found beaten and strangled in her house in Veracruz. InSightCrime notes that, in the week prior to her death,

Martinez produced articles on a Veracruz mayor's ties to the Zetas drug gang, the arrest of an alleged Zetas financial head, and the detention of nine Veracruz police officers for alleged links to organized crime.
Meanwhile, in Colombia, French journalist Romeo Langlois remains missing without any definitive confirmation that he is being held by the FARC rebels. He disappeared Saturday when an army unit he was embedded with came under fire. Various news stations and organizations have received messages claiming to be from the FARC’s 15th Front and saying that they have Langlois prisoner, but this has not been confirmed. The situation is complicated by the fact that the FARC’s website where they often make annoucements,, is down, apparently having beenhacked and replaced with that of an Argentine party promoter.

News Briefs
  • Haitian lawmakers have approved the appointment of Laurent Lamothe as the country’s new prime minister, ending a second period of deadlock in which the country was without an effective government. The AP points out that, in President Michel Martelly’s first year in office, he has had a prime minister for only four months, preventing him from moving forward with reconstructing the country. Martelly had not held public office before. Previous Prime MinisterGarry Conille, appointed after an eight-month delay at the beginning of Martelly’s term, resigned in February after clashing with the president. The AP says it could be weeks before Parliament approves Lamothe’s government plan and cabinet choices. The new PM is 39 years old, a former businessman, and had served as Martelly’s foreign minister since October, reports Reuters.
  • One of the Peruvian policemen who went missing on a mission to rescue 36 gas workers taken hostage by the Shining Path last month has been found dead by his father, reports the AP. Cesar Vilca and Luis Astuquillca were left in the jungle after the helicopter carrying them came under fire on April 12. According to the survivor’s account, Vilca was badly wounded, and told Astuquillca to go and try to send help. He made it out of the jungle on Sunday, but was not able to lead the authorities to his wounded colleague. After Astuquillca’s reappearance, Vilca’s father Dionisio traveled to the town of Kiteni to help search for his son. On Wednesday, he asked the army to let him go out into the jungle unaccompanied, with no troops following him and no aircraft overhead, as local people had told him they could take him to his son’s body but only if he was not with troops that would call the attention of the guerrillas, reports LaRepublica.  The next day he returned to Kiteni with the body of his son wrapped in a blanket. According to La Republica, police said that Vilca’s body had been stripped of its uniform and showed signs of torture -- he had been shot in the head.
  • The NYT looks at Brazil’s troop surge on its northern border, as noted in yesterday’s post. “The Amazon is Brazil’s No. 1 priority from a strategic viewpoint, given its importance to humanity as a source of water, biodiversity and food production,” the chief of the Amazon Military Command told the newspaper. One of the things driving the operation is concern about drugs entering the country, which have fed a crack epidemic in some of Brazil’s major cities, it reports. InSight Crime notes that the government carried out three similar troop surges in 2011, helping drive up the price of cocaine paste in some parts of the country. The military presence is intended to be a short-term measure, to be replaced in time by a longer-term deployment of police.
  • Brazilian lawmakers have criticized the government’s failure to appoint the members of a seven-person Truth Commission, which was signed into law in November to investigate crimes committed between 1946 and 1988, including during the 1964-1985 military regime, reports the AP. Representative Luiza Erundina, who is on the Congress’ human rights commission, said that the delay in appointing the board raised “questions,” noting that Brazil has done little to reconstruct the facts of what happened during that period. She called for the country’s controversial 1979 amnesty law, which prevents prosecutions for politically motivated crimes committed under the regime. Erundina said that the Congress human rights commission will carry out its own parallel investigation, in order to support the work of the Truth Commission.
  • A telephone company owned by magnate Carlos Slim has avoided a $1 billion fine by agreeing to change pricing practices, making it cheaper for users to take calls from those on other networks. Telcel, a unit of America Mobil, controls 70 percent of Mexico’s wireless market. The Mexican anti-trust commission has been fighting for 15 years to cut its dominance of the market, reports the NYT, and imposed the fine in April. Telcel suggested the reforms in order to avoid the fine. The commission said that, with the reforms, Mexico goes from being the fifth most expensive to the fourth least expensive for mobile rates in the OECD,reports the WSJ.
  • Argentina’s Congress passed the bill to nationalize Spanish-owned gas and oil company YPF with a massive majority -- 207 of its 257 Congress members voted in favor, reports the WSJ. During the session, Deputy Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, who is thought to have been behind the move, said that Spain’s Repsol, which had owned a controlling stake, might not get any compensation once YPF’s liabilities were taken into account. The Miami Herald condemns the expropriation.
  • The British government has dismissed an advert secretly filmed by the Argentine government on the disputed Falklands Islands/Malvinas, which shows an Olympic athlete training with the slogan  “To compete on British soil, we train on Argentinian soil.” Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was a stunt for the country to try to save a bit of pride, reports the AP.
  • CISPES reports on a legal challenge being launched in El Salvador against the government’s naming of two former generals -- who retired days or hours before their appointments were announced -- to head the Security Ministry and the police. A coalition of civil society groups are challenging the appointments on the grounds that they are unconstitutional, as the constitution mandates that they be headed by civilians.
  • Three US contractors who were held by Colombia’s FARC rebels for five years until 2008 have been awarded $318 million compensation, to be paid from money confiscated from the accounts of Colombian drug traffickers, many of whom were linked to the FARC, reports Colombia Reports.
  • Venezuela’s foreign minister has called for Latin America to set up a human rights commission that excludes the US, reports the AP. This follows President Hugo Chavez’s threat Monday to withdraw from the OAS’s Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC)

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